The Number 10 in Soccer – Why it’s so Significant


image of a number 10 behind the post title

There are few numbers in soccer that carry such significance or admiration as the number 10. Some of the greatest players in history have worn this number on the back of their jersey, and some of the greatest moments in the game have been created by a player wearing the number 10. But why is the number 10 so symbolic?

The number 10 is given to the playmaker or attacking midfielder on a soccer team. They will play just behind the forwards and are responsible for creating goal-scoring opportunities for the team. The number 10 jersey has been worn by some of the greatest soccer players in the history of the game.

How and why this has come to be so meaningful is an interesting question. Throughout this article, we’ll take a look at what it means, why it’s so significant, the history of the number 10 jersey, and some of the great soccer players who have worn this number.

All of the great number 10’s achieved everything they did by operating at peak fitness. To help you get to your peak fitness and reach your potential as a soccer player I created the 30-day Soccer Fitness Guide. Click here to find out more, follow the same training as the pros, and see how far you can go in the next 30 days.

What the number 10 means

player position numbers on a soccer field
Where soccer numbers are positioned on a soccer field

For the sake of clarity and for anyone who is wondering what it means when people talk about the number 10 in soccer, let me quickly explain.

The number 10 refers to either:

  • the player on the soccer field who is wearing the number 10 on the back of their jersey in a specific game
  • or it can refer to the position on the field that is associated with the number 10.

Each player in a soccer game is required to wear a number on the back of their jersey to identify them clearly. Traditionally this would be the numbers from 1 -11, but these days it can be any number.

I’ve also written a guide to the number 6 position in soccer that you can check out by clicking here if you’re interested.

The number 10 is also traditionally associated with the position on the field just behind the forwards but in front of the midfielders.

This means that you will sometimes hear someone refer to the number 10 during a game but the player they are referring to will actually be wearing a different number on their back at the time.

Although this may seem confusing at first once you understand what is going on it begins to make more sense!

Why it is considered to be so significant

The prestige attached to the number 10 jersey has mostly developed from the fact that some of the greatest players in the history of soccer have accomplished their greatest achievements while wearing the number 10 on their back.

Player’s such as Pele, Maradona, Messi, and so many more of the all-time greats all wore that number at the height of their careers. As fans from all over the world watched them perform feats that went beyond anything they had seen before, the number 10 jersey was regularly reinforced as being associated with only the best players.

As kids throughout the world kick a ball about with the friends they all imagine being one of these greats and wearing the number 10 jersey for their team.

It’s also the fact that the role of a player in the position of a number 10 is one of the most enjoyable and entertaining positions to play in or to watch.

But before we look at the role of a number 10 let’s briefly look at how the number 10 came to be so important.

History of the number 10 jersey

historical drawing of people playing soccer

To really understand the significance of the number 10 in soccer you need to understand a bit of the history of why soccer players wear numbers in the first place.

The history of using numbers on jerseys in soccer goes all the way back to Australia in 1911. A game played between Sydney Leichhardt and HMS Powerful is the first recorded instance of a soccer team playing with numbers on their backs. [source]Opens in a new tab.

Teams in the South American country of Argentina were the next to start doing this in 1923 and the United States followed in March 1924 in a game between the Fall River Marksmen and the St. Louis Vesper Buick.

England, the home of modern-day soccer, didn’t start wearing jerseys with numbers on until 1928.

The history of the number 10 jersey is no different from any of the other numbers worn by soccer players.

Numbers were first used to identify the different positions on the soccer field. Each position was assigned a number from 1 – 11. This clearly showed which area of the field, or position, a player was playing in.

For example, if a player was wearing the number 1 you knew they were the goalkeeper, and if they were wearing the number 9 you would know they were the center forward.

Below is a table clearly showing each number and the position on the soccer field associated with that number. Find out more about soccer positions by clicking here to check out my Easy to Understand Guide to Soccer Positions.

Jersey NumberPosition on the field
1Goalkeeper
2Right full-back 
3Left full-back 
4Right center back
5Left center back
6Defending/Holding Midfielder
7Right-winger/midfielder
8Central midfielder
9Center forward
10Attacking Midfielder/Playmaker
11Left-winger/midfielder
Soccer player positions

This numbering system was beneficial for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly it helped the coaches of the teams. When explaining their tactics to the players they were now able to refer to a specific number of the field and the whole team knew what position was being talked about.
  • It was helpful for the players on the team. Not only did it help them to quickly identify where they were expected to be playing, but they could look around them, see the numbers on the back of the jersey’s of their fellow players and see where the other players were playing.
  • It also greatly helped the spectators and fans, especially when looking at the line up of players before a game. Previously it was only a list of names, but now each name had a number beside it and the fans could identify where the player would be on the field.

Originally the numbers stuck rigidly to their position on the field. So for example, if one player plays as a central midfielder in one game he would wear the number 8 and if he played as an attacking midfielder in the next game he would wear the number 10.

It is only in more recent times that a number has been associated with a specific player on a team rather than a position on the field. These days, a number will be allocated to a specific player in a squad at the beginning of a season and they will wear the same number whatever position they play in throughout the season.

This is the context in which the number 10 jersey became so symbolic.

Even before the numbers began to be associated with players rather than positions, the attacking midfield position, which the 10 represents, was one of the most exciting positions to play in and to watch.

This player in this position is often the most creative in the team. They make passes and create moves that no other player can do. They have incredible vision and can see what a pass that opens up a defense. They are also capable of scoring and creating some incredible goals that every fan loves to see.

The player that plays in the role of a number 10 is usually the most exciting player to watch.

Role of a number 10

number 10 jersey on soccer field

So what actually is the role of a number 10?

The role of a number 10 in soccer is to create goal-scoring opportunities for their team. Either by making incisive passes, creating space for other players, or scoring goals themselves.

As we’ve previously mentioned the player who wears this number is usually the playmaker on a team.

They will have the responsibility of orchestrating the play. Playing the ball into areas where the team can have the most impact. For this, they need to be able to effectively read the game and predict what is going to happen before it actually happens. This is a skill that takes a highly refined “soccer brain”.

The number 10 is often the most naturally gifted and creative player on a team. They must have the ability not just to pass or shoot accurately but also dribble with the ball, find space for themselves and other team players, cross effectively and control the ball in an instant.

As an attacking player, when they receive the ball their first reaction should be to see if they can move the ball into a more advanced position. The team will be looking to them to create goal-scoring opportunities and score goals themselves. Some of the great number 10’s were considered to be so good because they not just created goals but scored so consistently as well.

The playmaker needs to possess great technical skills with the ball. When they see a pass that needs to be made or a move that could open up the opposition’s defense they need the skill to be able to achieve what they are attempting.

Their superior technical skill allows them to keep hold of the ball for as long as they need and not get tackled easily. With the great number 10’s it sometimes seemed like the ball was glued to their feet.

It is worth mentioning that when we are talking about playmakers there is a difference between advanced playmakers and deep-lying playmakers. Players such as the Italian Andrea Pirlo sit further back in the team, often just in front of the defenders, and orchestrate the play from there. These players rarely wear the number 10 jersey.

The 6 greatest players to wear the number 10

Now we’ve looked at what a number 10 does, let’s take a look at 6 of the greatest number 10’s ever to play the game.

1. Lionel Messi

lionel Messi holding up number 10 jersey

Lionel Messi’s records and statistics speak for themselves.

He has:

  • 6 FIFA Ballon d’or’s
  • 6 European Golden Shoes
  • 34 club trophies
  • 10 La Liga (Spanish league) titles
  • 4 UEFA Champions League’s
  • 6 Copas del Rey
  • A record 420 La Liga goals
  • 163 assists in La Liga
  • record 8 UEFA Champions League hat-tricks
  • record 50 goals in one season
  • Total of 670 career goals
  • Argentina’s all-time record goalscorer

Lionel Messi isn’t just one of the greatest number 10’s but one of the world’s greatest ever soccer players.

If you want to know if Messi speaks any English, have a look at this article I wrote, and if you’re interested in how many red cards Messi has received throughout his career, check out this article I recently wrote.

2. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona kicking ball
Argentinian Diego Maradona in action for Napoli

Another Argentinian and another of the world’s great number 10’s.

Maradona was a technical genius with the ball at his feet. He was fast and could dribble past any player. He had incredible vision and creativity with the ball. His range of passing was excellent and was an expert at scoring goals. He has even been credited with scoring the ‘goal of the century’ for Argentina against England in 1986.

He made his club debut at the age of 15 and his international debut at the age of 16. He played in four FIFA World Cups winning it in 1986.

3. Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff wearing Netherlands jersey

Johan Cruyff had one of the best tactical brains of any player ever to play soccer. Not only could he see what was happening in a game but he was more than capable of putting his own stamp on the game and taking it in the direction he wanted it to go.

He was a master of finding space on the field and losing his marker at will. He was not just a great technician with the ball but he even created his own move which was named after him and is by soccer players all around the world.

There is no other number 10 who was quite as creative as Johan Cruyff

4. Michel Platini

Michel Platini in number 10 jersey

Michel Platini won three consecutive Ballon d’Ors from 1983-85 and was also given the honor of being named the French Player of the Century in 1999.

He was incredible with the ball at his feet and was a prolific goalscorer scoring over 350 goals throughout his career. He could seemingly find a pass or create an opportunity out of nothing and was often one step ahead of everyone else on the field.

The Frenchman was also known for his ability at set-pieces. He would regularly score or set up a goal from a free-kick or score from a penalty kick.

5. Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stefano in white jersey

Considered by Real Madrid to be the greatest ever player to play for them, Di Stefano not only won two Ballon d’Ors and eight La Liga’s (Spanish league title) but also won 5 European Cups scoring in the final of each one.

Despite retiring from soccer in 1966 he is still the sixth-highest scorer in La Liga (Spanish league), and Real Madrid’s third-highest league goalscorer of all time.

He possessed all of the requirements of a great number 10. He was fast, strong, tactically aware, creative and had exceptional vision and skill with the ball.

6. Pelé

Pele in number 10 jersey

Edson Arantes do Nascimento, more popularly known as Pelé, is considered to be one of, if not the greatest soccer player of all time. Wearing the number 10 jersey for Brazil he won a record three World Cups between 1958 – 1970.

Scoring 650 goals in 694 games Pelé scored more league goals than any other player in soccer history, He also has the Guinness world record for scoring a total of 1281 goals in 1363 games throughout his career.

Again, he was exceptional with the ball at his feet and could seemingly dribble past opponents at will.

When playing in the role of number 10 his incredible vision and tactical awareness combined with his passing ability allowed him to create so many goals and opportunities for the other players around him.

Pelé truly was a master of the beautiful game that is soccer.

*Check out the next post – A Comprehensive Glossary of the Terms Used in Soccer *

Ben

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Sign up to the yoursoccerhome.com newsletter here or check out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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